Why I am a Vegetarian

As part of my present period of hiatus, I’m taking time to renew some of my principles, including the fact that I am a vegetarian. I have been for nearly five months. For those don’t fully understand my decision, allow me a few paragraphs to explain why I am a vegetarian.

When I stopped eating meat (red meat especially) in August, it was with a singular aim: reducing my environmental impact. Prior to this summer, I had remained (at the time, blissfully) unaware of the huge environmental implications of consuming meat. A little research and a few startling facts quickly changed that. I found that, basically, we have is a situation where 89% of America’s cattle are raised from infancy in feed lots. This has two big implications.

The first is the massive amount of feed and energy cattle require as they mature– the huge amounts of grain, especially. Waiting to reach the age of slaughter, feed-lot cattle are fed a large amount of grain in proportion to the amount of human food they produce. The end result is such that for every calorie of meat produced for human consumption, seven to ten calories of grain are invested. This grain must be sown, raised, harvested, and transported to the feed lots repeatedly to sustain the animal herds. Then, once the animals are of age, the cattle themselves must be transported, slaughtered, packaged, and eventually distributed again before finally appearing in our grocery stores. Livestock production is the world’s largest use of agricultural land; each step requires petroleum and creates pollution.

It’s an oft’ quoted fact that adopting a vegetarian diet reduces one’s petroleum consumption as much as trading in one’s car for a bike. If the whole world consumed as much red meat as Americans, the world’s petroleum reserves would be empty by 2020. I can’t give up my car (though I can buy a Terra Pass), but I can give up meat.

The second implication is the result of a 1.3 billion head cattle population on a finite planet of interconnected systems. The waste produced by cattle causes ammonia and nitrate pollution of soil, rivers and water systems. Much of the manure produced by cows in Holland, for example, must be shipped from Holland because their soil and water systems have reached a point of saturation.

Moreover, as unlikely as it sounds, the standing cattle population is also a significant contributor to global warming, producing some 25% of the world’s methane: about 10 per cent of all greenhouse gases.

Global warming, incidentally, is no longer theory but established reality. According to the recently released report commissioned by Tony Blair, we must act now to curb the emission of greenhouse gases. Failure to do so will lead to a global economic failure comparable only to the Great Depression in scale and severity, as coastal lands are subsumed in glacial waters and changing climate patterns precipitate desertification and removal of arable land.

It falls on the shoulders of this generation to address this looming and potentially disastrous threat. Reducing global meat consumption is a mandate of a sustainable future. There has been a trend among developing nations to adopt an increasingly Western diet and reliance on meat. If current trends continue, there will be an estimated 4.6 billion cattle by 2050 (with a caloric intake equal to 4 billion humans). In terms of renewable resources, the Earth’s population capacity–widely estimated at 10 to 12 billion people–can be altered drastically by diet; a vegetarian’s diet requires 70% less agricultural land than a non-vegetarian.

These are just two of the more poignant examples of environmental impact, among myriad others.

Regardless of environmental concerns, I’ve discovered other distinct benefits to being a vegetarian as well. Red meat, though a significant source of protein, is also a significant source of cholesterol. There is nothing inherently unhealthy about red meat; the quantity of red meat consumed by most Americans, however, leads to the diets high in cholesterol that have been directly linked to heart disease. Packages of low-grade ground beef should come with a message from the Surgeon General: SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Red meat increases the risk of coronary heart disease and other forms of cardiovascular disease.

The corollary of eating less meat is eating more grains, fruits and vegetables. A vegetarian diet (as per my own research; contrary to some claims) is not inherently more healthy than a mixed diet. By being very intentional about food choice, however, I’ve noticed a marked improvement in my diet. I’ve felt demonstrably healthier this fall, a result, I believe, of eating more healthy and nutritious foods. Eating should leave one feeling refreshed and invigorated, not greasy, lethargic or bloated. This fall, I’ve felt better, had more energy and have been more alert. A minor cold aside, I was never sick this fall, despite living in close quarters with many others who were.

In short, I’ve found my vegetarian diet to be rewarding, both from a sense of environmental consciousness, as well as in terms of my personal health. It’s surprisingly easy– though, I must admit, I’m still tempted by the occasional hamburger, my desire to eat other meat has abated entirely. Most restaurants (the “Outback Steakhouse” being a disagreeable exception) offer vegetarian entrees. Many fast food restaurants do not, but I’ve come to see this as an advantage: just one more reason to avoid food that’s thoroughly unhealthy.

In closing, I’m very much satisfied with my decision to be a vegetarian; it is my full intention to remain one for the foreseeable future. If you’ll allow me, I would encourage you to consider reducing your meat consumption, both for yourself, and for future generations who will live to inherit our decisions.

About Mark Egge

Two truths and a lie: Mark Egge is an outdoor enthusiast, opera singer, and a transportation data scientist. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.
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6 Responses to Why I am a Vegetarian

  1. jaderobbins says:

    When I first read your blog I really enjoyed the humor of self reflection, but I find that recently you’ve been slipping more and more into enviro-enduced madness. I’m really starting to think that you just listen to any sort of “environmentally conscious” person with an agenda, and pretty soon they will convince you to commit suicide so that you can stop using petroleum all together!

    You want to save the world? Then find a middle ground with your opposition. Going more and more radically in one direction only spurs people to go just as equally in the opposite, but starting good cooperative dialogue helps both sides reach REALISTIC goals. So really, what do you want? To make a political statement that will just charge people equally in the opposite direction or get RESULTS? There is a balance of radicals, but in the end that gets nothing done. Realizing the feelings and understandings of your opposition is the only way you can start to change them. For example, my political and social views are a 180 of you and the more “out there” I think you get the more I am DEFINETLY not swaying your way, but if you come up with practical solutions (for example, your revival of the recycling program on campus) then I’m much more easily swayed to the green side of things. By doing things like not eating meat to reduce petroleum consumption all you are doing is saving your own conscience. You aren’t REALLY helping the environment because you aren’t helping change the general populous’ opinion! I hate to say it, but there are a reason that radical groups hire lobbyist, because if they tried to convince anyone with their radical opinions people would think they are insane! I think the perfect example is Stan Jones of the Montana Libertarian Party at the debate he attended here in Bozeman. When asked for solutions to questions he got up on his soap box, sounded like a crazy person, and didn’t win any votes because of it.

    You’ll never get anything done just re-polarizing opposite opinions, all you do is dig deeper in the trenches and hope the war ends.

  2. Hopealess says:

    Here in the United States we seem to embody the idea that the rest of the world is very conservative. We seem to think that our neighbors living in Wyoming or Montana hold similar views to many people worldwide. Wake up call – they don’t. Our “radical liberal” in the US is a lot more mainstream in Europe, because they must face the facts. People worldwide have to DEAL with the waste they put into the world as the example of Holland shipping out manure demonstrates. Think bigger: famine and poverty in Africa and other countries is due to the fact that agricultural practices brought in by Europeans stripped the land. People in India and other countries that adopt semi-vegetarian lifestyles do so because they understand that consuming meat at the rate that Americans do is unrealistic. In fact 41 grams of protein daily is the minimum and the average adult consumes 60-70 grams which is probably too much…and that’s about one and a half extra lean hamburgers. My bet is most people consume that frequently – I know I did before I thought more about meat consumption.

    Mark isn’t being a crazy person when he asks you to consider reducing your meat consumption. You are just throwning him into a sterotype of “those crazy environmentalists who actually think they make a difference.” Open your eyes and realize that environmentalism has gained momentum over the last 30 years worldwide because it is legitimate. But if you feel better calling it radical, then maybe denial is a better place for you. Just don’t deter the efforts of people who WILL make a difference in the world.

  3. jaderobbins says:

    More mainstream or not, it’s still a radical view. If the ideas and concepts being proposed are starkly different than the status quo they are “radical”. Being your point of view requires quite a bit of change, I think that embodies it as “radical”. Wake up call for you, just because you believe strongly in something doesn’t make it mainstream or popular. I’m not trying to devoid your feelings and beliefs, I’m actually trying to help you guys sway opinion more effectively.

    Also, you mention people in India taking semi-vegetarian lifestyles because it’s HEALTHIER, not because of environmental concerns.

    Lastly, I didn’t mean to call Mark “crazy”, bu i just find the hipocrosy of environmentalists goofy. I feel there are MANY more practical solutions to cut down on environmental hazards instead of cutting out meat in one’s diet.

    edit: need. . . RSS. . . . comments. . . .

  4. markegge says:

    Admittedly, the tone and emphasis of my blog has changed considerably from year to year– and has taken a turn, as of late, toward that of a soapbox. As I increasingly remove technology from the center of my life (a place it once firmly occupied) the idea of baring my feelings and self-consuming reflections to the general public on the internet increasingly loses its appeal. Consequently, what I end up posting here is just the facts… and occasionally a polished position or paper. And yeah– it’s kinda dull. I’ll not apologize.

    And if I’m a radical for asserting a need for change of the status quo, then so be it.

    It’s hard for me, at present, to come to terms with the accusation that I’m becoming “increasingly radical.” In my own view, I’ve seen myself actually drawn in from the extreme (political) left over the last year. There has been, however, an increased amount of environmental concern, as my interests and activities have become more outdoorsy and less … nerdy?

    If I could, I would “lead quietly by example.” I’ve tried not to be pushy with my vegetarianism– answering questions, when asked, but not providing unsolicited environmental factoids at the dinner table. Similarly, I’m taxed to understand how the above post is “radical.” I present a number of simple facts, and explain how I’ve reacted to those facts. I do, it’s true, urge my reader to consider her or his own meat consumption, but I beg the reader’s permission before making my request– and even the request is a request to consider, not to act. So how is that radical?

    Cows produce methane. That’s a fact. Red meat is high in cholesterol. That’s a fact. I’m not putting any spin on this stuff– just reproducing information that I think is important and more people should know.

    My goal is to increase awareness, not gain “converts.” The meat industry has a significant environmental impact. Though little known, that’s a fact. And I think it’s an important fact.

    Look. Let’s take an economic approach to the question of the meat industry.

    Markets fail in the presence of negative externalities. Government agencies, even according to the most conservative of fiscal ideologies, should exist to prevent and check market failures. Anti-trust laws, for example, are an important government function: monopolies, a form of market failure, prevent the market from operating efficiently.

    This being said, the American meat industry has negative externalities (costs absorbed by the general public, outside of the buyer-seller market function). These negative externalities include: 1) methane production, increasing global levels of greenhouse gases 2) ammonia and nitrate pollution of soil 3) increased medical costs associated with elevated levels of cardiovascular disease (though this last is a bit of a stretch).

    Due to these negative externalities, the socially optimal level of meat production is lower than the privately optimal level. Nevertheless, there exist no government regulations controlling or guiding the meat production industry. The degree of associated economic control is still open for debate (“radical environmentalists”, obviously, are going to advocate for more controls). The fact remains, however, that if we acknowledge the presence of these externalities, then we must, consequently, acknowledge that the level of meat production should by reduced to the socially optimal level. That’s just economics.

  5. Sagar1586 says:

    Mark, Hope… would you two be kind enough to remind me, again? Why is it you two don’t eat meat?

    “Also, you mention people in India taking semi-vegetarian lifestyles because it’s HEALTHIER, not because of environmental concerns.”
    wrong. have you seen indians? have you seen how skinny they are? how their average life expectency is significantly shorter than that of america or europe? my family in india eats not a bit of meat, and never has. because they are 100% subsitence farmers. they have like 15 acres, and they feed dozens of people off that land every day, and in addition to that they have a mass production of peanut crops for purely commercial profit. money in the pocket with which they can do whatever thye want with, because they don’t need to grow the food. there are more people in 2 square miles of calcutta india than in the STATE of wyoming. how is a country that dense in population supposed to use its land to feed its people if it serves vast quantities of meat. the environment for the average indian (and MANY MANY of those are farmers just like my family) isn’t something that needs to be maintained, and saved, and preserved for novelties sake, so people can go chill in the rainforest and discover new bugs. the environment needs to be maintained, treasured, relished, and preserved because it is absolutely inextricably linked to their way of life. we’ve become so disconnected from this fact in america that we simply lose sight, and focus.

    i agree. the “radicals” out there aren’t ever goign to make a direct change. but their presence is absolutely neccessary. america is a country that never makes radical moves. ever. and i understand that. we’re hellbent on (like you said) negotiating some sort of middle ground. but that middle ground is always defined as in the center of the radicals. without the radicals on the left, the radicals on the right would thus implicitly shift the middle ground further to the right. plus our radicals believe in something. believe in something so much, that simply acting on it lets them sleep easier at night. they think they’re truley doing the right thing and have some sort of conviction within them. i applaud our radicals.

    but i still don’t understand, hope. why not eat meat? its tasty isn’t it? ;-)

  6. jaderobbins says:

    Oh i never meant to give the opinion that radicals are not necessary. I think that radicals on both sides allow sensible people to find a good middle.